There is no doubt that the political changes in the Arab region have affected the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The rise of the Islamic current to power in Egypt, and its approaching ascension to power in Syria, have forced influential international parties to turn their backs completely on the peace process in the Middle East.
More importantly, these parties have asked Arab and foreign donors to suspend their financial support to the Palestinian Authority (PA). This has led to the PA’s current severe financial crisis, which — among other reasons — may result in its collapse.
Some believe that the aim behind the financial blockade was to prevent the PA from heading to the United Nations to obtain observer status, and to pressure the PA to resume negotiations without conditions. However, I think that the reason for the blockade is the changes happening in the region.
If a political settlement is inevitable based on Israel’s calculations, why would it stand with the PA in Ramallah? Would it not be better for the settlement to be with Hamas as the region is tilting in its favor?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly said three days ago [Jan. 2] that "the fall of the PA in Ramallah is a possibility," and that "any rational person can predict the fall of the PA in the West Bank, similar to what is happening in Syria now." He added that “Hamas may control the PA territories before or after reaching a political settlement with the PA.”
In conclusion, Netanyahu said that “a responsible and rational approach must be adopted toward the PA in Ramallah, as opposed to the calls for fast action, making concessions and withdrawing [from PA territories] to avoid the risk of establishing a third terrorist Iranian base in the region, as has happened in Lebanon and Gaza."
Netanyahu is convinced that Hamas will assume power. His talk about the possibility of Hamas assuming power after a political settlement is a claim that he is ready to reach a compromise with the PA in Ramallah. But his actions contradict that, as well as his claim that there is a threat a new Iranian terrorist base in the West Bank.
Netanyahu knows more than anyone else that Hamas has broken its ties with Iran, and is currently aligned with new allies who want a truce with Israel, even if temporary. Furthermore, if his concerns were real, why would he besiege the PA, withhold tax funds from it and pave the way for its collapse?
Most significantly, Netanyahu introduced the idea of accepting the control of Hamas over the West Bank as a fact with which Israel must deal, and that a settlement would come after rather than before Hamas assumes control over the West Bank.
The Arab financial blockade is also part of this vision. It perhaps aims to accelerate the replacement of the PA with Hamas and the sponsorship of indirect negotiations for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel is taking account of that arrangement’s features, and I think that the Islamist current does not object to returning the West Bank to Jordan. In that context, the Jordanian king met Netanyahu last week. Some newspapers reported that they discussed the subject of a confederation between Jordan and the West Bank.
This is a convenient solution for many parties. It is convenient for Israel, which covets the West Bank’s land, but without the Palestinians. That solution would be a substitute for the two-state solution, which would produce a chopped up, economically non-viable Palestinian state, a constant source of trouble for Israel.
That solution is also at the core of the Likud’s doctrine, which considers Jordan the Palestinians’ state.
That solution is also convenient for the Islamists, who are on their way to power. Even if it starts today, Egypt will need years to overcome Mubarak’s legacy of poverty, illiteracy, backwardness and international and security attachments.
If the Islamists come to power in Syria, the country will be similar to Libya, with armed militias squabbling for control. The moderate Islamists — the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood — would enter into a costly international game aimed at spreading their authority throughout Syrian territory. That game will also affect the Brotherhood’s position toward Israel and the West Bank solution.
Islamists in Jordan do not object to that solution. The Islamists still to this day reject the Jordanian king’s 1988 decision to disengage from the West Bank. They consider that decision unconstitutional and believe that the West Bank must return to Jordan, for it to have elections and for the new parliament to decide whether to disengage. In other words, they believe that the West Bank is part of Jordan.
Jordan is officially against the idea, according to recent statements by the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But that position is likely to change for two reasons: One, Jordan is suffering from a $24 billion debt and is thus vulnerable to political pressure. Two, the Jordanian regime’s social base of native Jordanians, specifically in the south, is fragmenting and the regime has an interest in building support among Palestinians. The Jordanian Islamic movement, which has broad Palestinian support, does not mind supporting the Jordanian regime if in return it gets the premiership and genuine parliamentary elections, as happened in Morocco, for example.
With regard to where Hamas and Fatah stand on the matter, the former sees regional developments as to its advantage, and is thus biding its time. Hamas will not directly concede and sign an agreement because as we have often said, Hamas — and the Islamists in general — inherit agreements. They do not sign them for ideological reasons that have nothing to do with politics. After they inherit them, those agreements can survive for decades until God changes the Islamic Umma’s situation. Therefore, Hamas will not oppose or try to thwart such an agreement.
Fatah, despite its sudden revival in Gaza, is not in a position to thwart such a project either. The most it can do is dissolve the Palestinian Authority. Under the current financial and political siege, that may be what the Arabs and the international community need in order to pave the way for the Israeli project of returning the West Bank, or parts of it, to Jordan.